by Mark Page, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
After avoiding near-dissolution in March, the Nakusp & District Chamber of Commerce must now overcome a $10,000 budget shortfall if it is to continue operating.
"We want to help the community so we hope the community will help us," Dolly Edwards, one of the Chamber's board members, told members at the Chamber's general meeting on September 21.
As the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses and stopped public events beginning in March 2020, the Nakusp Chamber saw its membership plummet too, dropping from 130 to where it stands now at 86.
"Hit with COVID, the Chamber became a lot less active," said Sandra Dempsey-Koch, Chamber treasurer and a chartered accountant. "So people lost interest in the Chamber."
Dempsey-Koch reckons they can continue operations for two years before the accounts are totally emptied but reduced services will be the unfortunate outcome.
All of the directors are new to the task of running an organization of this type after a combination of retirement and burnout saw the resignation of all the previous members last March.
This would have ended the Chamber's 70-year history of serving the businesses of Nakusp.
"I think we will be winding it down, it's a sad thing to say," outgoing Chamber President Barbara Ross told the Valley Voice in March.
At the time, seven brand new board members stepped up, including new President Tina Knooihuizen, who admitted the new group was green but had plenty of enthusiasm.
Despite their energy, it has been a steep learning curve and it took a few months to work out the books.
"(Dempsey-Koch) has spent tons of hours going over the numbers and trying to figure this out," Edwards said. Edwards and Dempsey-Koch are working pro bono to try and sort out the Chamber's finances.
The majority of funding comes from membership fees ranging from $116 for smaller businesses up to $210 for larger ones. This includes a $13 fee for the BC Chamber of Commerce and a $5 bursary for a graduating Nakusp Secondary school student pursuing post-secondary education.
These rates represent a 12% increase, the first rate hike since 2020.
"It sounds like we are begging people to join but there are many benefits to being a member," Knooihuizen said, "the very least of which being a tax write-off."
According to material provided by Knooihuizen, benefits include advertising on kiosks and the Upper Arrow Lake Ferry, helping with health benefits, networking and business training. The Chamber also does lots of grant writing, and provides scholarships to local students for their post-secondary education. The board announced four such scholarships at the meeting, doling out $8,764 for each student.
Beyond membership fees, it is up to the board members to raise money through events such as the upcoming Leland Hotel Haunted House for Halloween or the Christmas float where kids can get photos with Santa.
Dempsey said they plan a big membership drive in the New Year but at this point they are just trying to close the gap with events as the Chamber realizes businesses will get the most out of their yearly membership by purchasing in January.
"We want people to get a full year," said Dempsey-Koch.
The Chamber also operates the Nakusp Visitor Centre and even though it receives some funding from Destination BC, it is also an unfortunate source of the budget shortfall.
"We find the Visitor Centre is an integral part of our community," Dempsey-Koch said at the meeting. "We hope to get the Visitor Centre self-sufficient someday."
The Visitor Centre is managed by the Chamber's only full-time employee, Tracy Fetters, who gave a report at the meeting. She said it had just met and exceeded its obligation to Destination BC for hours maintained throughout the season.
Future collaboration with the Arrow Slocan Tourism Association (ASTA) is also a possible source of new revenue. ASTA Executive Director Megan Chadwick was on hand at the meeting to give a presentation on her work promoting the region, along with discussing possible joint efforts.
Chadwick expressed a desire to work with the Chamber to increase visitation in the region but to also "thoughtfully guide the direction of tourist development in the area," and “to think sustainably and minimize that footprint where possible."
Mark Page, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice